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Jocasta GardnerJocasta Gardner took up her role as HAF in the Mathematical Institute, based in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter in central Oxford, just three months before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Prior to joining Maths, she worked in the Humanities Division and prior to Oxford held a similar role at a campus-based university.

Jocasta likens her role to that of a Chief Operating Officer, supporting the Head of Department and senior management team to deliver the department’s vision, and enabling an environment in which staff and students can fulfil their potential.

What have been the highlights of the role so far?

For Jocasta, the best bits about being a HAF are having the chance to make things happen, working closely with leading academics and a great team, and contributing to the success of the department. She enjoys the sheer variety of her work and 'making sure the sum is greater than the parts' or 'joining the dots', to work out who needs to do what and who needs to talk to whom, to make an idea come to life. Her involvement in progressing equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives has been particularly rewarding, and the return to on-site working after the pandemic lockdowns was a key moment.

Highlights of Jocasta’s first few years in post have included the department’s outstanding results in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 exercise (together with the Department of Statistics), and colleagues receiving the highest international accolades in mathematics, including a Nobel Prize, Shaw Prize and Fields Medal. “I’m involved in amazing things, and contributing to that in some way is immensely rewarding."

What might surprise people about your role?

“The variety and scale of what’s involved, particularly in a big science department. You get involved in such a range of projects.”

“You’ll be asked about menu choices for the summer party one minute, and making decisions about multi-million-pound investments the next. That variety and scale brings opportunities as well as great challenges.”

What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a HAF?

“Go for it! You don’t have to have been a HAF before to become one, and you don’t need to know the division or department before you join it. It can actually be quite an advantage not to be an expert in the subject area of your department. Breadth of experience and a ‘can do’ attitude are far more important.

“You’ll rely heavily on the team around you and gain great energy from interacting with them – their enthusiasm and commitment. When things get tough, a light-hearted giggle over something trivial in the staff kitchen always helps! But you need a thick skin to be a HAF sometimes, because ultimately, the buck often stops with you

“The HAF is such a key role in any department that you’ll find everyone is keen to help you make it work.”